Bulls will not match Houston’s offer to Asik


Jul 24

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The Bulls will not match the restricted free agent offer to Omer Asik, allowing Asik to join the Houston Rockets.

“We have decided not to match Houston’s offer sheet for restricted free agent Omer Asik,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said Tuesday morning. “It was a difficult decision because Omer did a nice job for us. Matching the offer for Omer could have put us in a difficult position going forward in trying to acquire high level talent. We wish Omer good luck and continued success.”

Omer Asik

Asik is expected to be the starting center in Houston along with fellow free agent Jeremy Lin at point guard, who went to Houston when the Knicks didn’t match his free agency offer, similar to Asik’s at about $25 million for three years with a payment of about $15 million in the third season.

At that amount, Asik in his third season would have been the second highest paid player on the Bulls roster after only Rose despite still being a backup center behind Joakim Noah.

So with Taj Gibson, who will be a restricted free agent after next season and a priority to resign, it would be difficult to see how Asik would be getting more playing time. Asik has been developing into a solid defensive presence. But he only averaged 3.1 points and shot 45.6 percent on free throws. And, especially without Rose at least the first part of the season, the Bulls’ needs will be on the offensive side.

The Bulls are expected to sign veteran center Nazr Mohammed. Mohammed, from Chicago’s Kenwood High School, averaged 2.7 points in 11 minutes per game for Oklahoma City last season compared with Asik’s 3.1 in 14.7 minutes per game.

But with Asik’s absence, the likelihood is Gibson would get more playing time above his 20.4 minutes per game. Smaller front lines have been more common in the NBA these days with Miami winning the title last season not using a traditional center in most of the playoffs and Finals. Thus matching teams with more offensive firepower would seem to have an increasing priority.

Asik is a loss. But in the end he seemingly would have been too costly to retain. By keeping that huge third year salary on the payroll, as the Knicks also realized with Lin, it could have created internal tensions with a little used bench player one of the team’s highest paid players. But more importantly, it would have inhibited the Bulls’ ability to add key pieces to the roster once Rose is at full health.

Obviously, the loss of Rose is the major setback heading into next season. There is no replacing a league MVP. But it still appears despite the loss of Asik and members of the so called Bench Mob — Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson — the Bulls have been able to put together a solid bench to support the likely returning starters of Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton.

The Bulls signed veteran and longtime Bull Kirk Hinrich to start at point guard until Rose returns. The key with Hinrich is he can both play backup point guard behind Rose and play shooting guard with Rose. Hinrich will meet media Tuesday afternoon at the Berto Center. There were few players available of those skills and the Bulls were fortunate to get Hinrich, who was in demand elsewhere.

The Bulls also are expected to sign Marco Belinelli, a 6-5, 26-year-old shooting guard who is a career 39 percent three point shooter and averaged in double figures the last two seasons starting for New Orleans. He makes up for the loss of Korver with his outside threat and is more athletic and considered a better defender. And given his age he is a player whom the Bulls could move forward with if he proves effective.

Jimmy Butler was one of the best players at summer league and will step in for Brewer. Going into his second season, it is clear Butler had to play. And he likely gives the Bulls a better offensive option than Brewer with a strong defensive possibility.

There’s little doubt around the NBA that Hinrich is a major improvement over Watson. Watson signed for a minimum contract with the Nets and Hinrich was in demand for salaries much higher as the Bulls used a big part of their mid level exception for Hinrich.

The Bulls have also signed veteran big man, Vladimir Radmanovic, a so called stretch four with his long distance shooting ability. The role is also becoming more important in the NBA these days. Radmanovic is a career 38 percent three point shooter and in five of his seasons he has shot better than 40 percent on threes. Essentially with the depth of the current bench, he’ll be replacing Brian Scalabrine, who while popular was not considered a regular producer.

With Rose’s contract extension starting this season, the Bulls with the new additions will be in the luxury tax and still have one of the top five payrolls in the league. But had they matched Asik’s contract, it could have severely hampered them in future flexibility for free agents. Plus, they’ll have the $5 million exception in the trade of Korver that could net them a higher level player next summer when Rose is returning.

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